Hall of Fame: Willie Keeler (1939)

A small guy with a big heart.

 Year Ag Tm  Lg  G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  SB CS  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG *OPS+  TB   SH
+--------------+---+----+----+----+---+--+---+----+---+--+---+---+-----+-----+-----+----+----+---+
1892 20 NYG NL 14 53 7 17 3 0 0 6 5 3 3 .321 .368 .377 126 20
1893 21 TOT NL 27 104 19 33 3 2 2 16 5 9 5 .317 .377 .442 121 46
NYG NL 7 24 5 8 2 1 1 7 3 5 1 .333 .448 .625 183 15
BRO NL 20 80 14 25 1 1 1 9 2 4 4 .313 .353 .388 101 31
1894 22 BLN NL 129 590 165 219 27 22 5 94 32 40 6 .371 .427 .517 123 305
1895 23 BLN NL 131 565 162 213 24 15 4 78 47 37 12 .377 .429 .494 134 279 21
1896 24 BLN NL 126 544 153 210 22 13 4 82 67 37 9 .386 .432 .496 142 270 13
1897 25 BLN NL 129 564 145 239 27 19 0 74 64 35 .424 .464 .539 164 304 12
1898 26 BLN NL 129 561 126 216 7 2 1 44 28 31 .385 .420 .410 136 230 9
1899 27 BRO NL 141 570 140 216 12 13 1 61 45 37 .379 .425 .451 138 257 17
1900 28 BRO NL 136 563 106 204 13 12 4 68 41 30 .362 .402 .449 129 253 19
1901 29 BRO NL 136 595 123 202 18 12 2 43 23 21 .339 .369 .420 126 250 22
1902 30 BRO NL 133 559 86 186 20 5 0 38 19 21 .333 .365 .386 130 216 25
1903 31 NYY AL 132 512 95 160 14 7 0 32 24 32 .313 .368 .367 116 188 27
1904 32 NYY AL 143 543 78 186 14 8 2 40 21 35 .343 .390 .409 147 222 27
1905 33 NYY AL 149 560 81 169 14 4 4 38 19 43 .302 .357 .363 118 203 42
1906 34 NYY AL 152 592 96 180 8 3 2 33 23 40 .304 .353 .338 108 200 35
1907 35 NYY AL 107 423 50 99 5 2 0 17 7 15 .234 .265 .255 61 108 26
1908 36 NYY AL 91 323 38 85 3 1 1 14 14 31 .263 .337 .288 103 93 21
1909 37 NYY AL 99 360 44 95 7 5 1 32 10 24 .264 .327 .319 103 115 33
1910 38 NYG NL 19 10 5 3 0 0 0 0 1 3 1 .300 .462 .300 123 3 1
+--------------+---+----+----+----+---+--+---+----+---+--+---+---+-----+-----+-----+----+----+---+
19 Seasons 8591 2932 145 810 0 36 .341 .388 .415 126 350
2123 1719 241 33 495 524 3562

On March 3, 1872, William Henry Keeler was born in Brooklyn, New York. From that point on, he grew only five inches, and that is why he has the name “Wee Willie” (actually, he grew to about 5’4″ by most accounts — Dustin Pedroia has nothing on him).

He arrived in the majors at age 20 in 1892, but he didn’t play much until he was acquired by Baltimore in 1894. They switched him from third base to right field, and Keeler took care of the rest. Keeler was an amazing bunter, and it is believed that Keeler is the reason for the rule stating that a bunted third strike that goes foul is a strikeout. Instead, Keeler learned the famous “Baltimore Chop” and made the hit-and-run a popular strategy in major league baseball.

In 1897, Keeler rattled off a 44-game hitting streak to begin the season, a record only matched by Rose and surpassed by DiMaggio, but it was actually a 45-game hitting streak because he had a hit in the last game of the previous season. He would go on to hit .424 that season, and it remains as the third highest batting average for a season of all-time. Keeler could also hit consistently, and his eight consecutive seasons of 200 hits is only matched by Ichiro Suzuki.

Four years after Keeler’s magical season, Ban Johnson started the American League. Several prominent NL players left to play for AL teams for more money and better treatment, and even though Keeler had six offers, he remained in Baltimore for two more seasons. Keeler signed on with the New York Highlanders in 1903, and the team eventually became the New York Yankees (ever heard of them?).

Keeler, a cheerful fellow, became more cheerful as he became the last player elected into the Hall of Fame in the 1939 class with 207 of 274 votes (75.5%). A slap hitter, Keeler is much different from the prototypical right fielder of today’s game. Then again, at 5’4″, he’s really not prototypical anywhere.

While looking at the voting, I found an interesting situation. Rube Waddell is next on the list with 65.3% (not the interesting part), and Rogers Hornsby is next with 64.2% (not yet … almost there). What I find interesting is that Hornsby didn’t receive any votes in 1937. I have no idea why (I’ll try to figure it out). He went from 46% to 0% to 17% to 64% to finally getting in at 78%. Hank Gowdy got more votes than Hornsby. To be fair, Hornsby did play in 1937, but he did in 1936 and received votes (when did the Hall stop voting for people still playing — I’ll look it up, but if anyone knows off-hand, I’d appreciate it). Maybe the BBWAA is just as messed up (maybe even better) as it was then.

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